About a month after the Jefferson Parish School Board permitted a now-ousted member to vote to reimburse himself for legal fees incurred in a case he opened against a colleague, the board decided Wednesday night to rescind a check of more than $14,000 generated by the affair.
Michael Delesdernier in December voted to have taxpayers foot the legal bill he rang up as he succeeded in pursuing a restraining order against fellow board member Cedric Floyd.
During debate on the reimbursement, those costs were said to be $8,000, but a copy of the check cut to Delesdernier showed it was actually $14,750.85.
Delesdernier ultimately returned the check without cashing it, but suspicions persisted Wednesday that he had violated Louisiana’s Code of Ethics.
“That person broke the law,” Meladie Munch, president of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, said before the School Board’s vote regarding Delesdernier. Referring to Delesdernier himself, Munch added, “It was brought to that person’s attention — not just by me. I guess it’s a good thing that person has moved along.”
Delesdernier did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday night. (NOTE: He made statements Thursday morning, and a brief summary of some of them is below, following the article.)
The vote in question came at Delesdernier’s final meeting as a board member on Dec. 17. Marion “Coach” Bonura defeated Delesdernier in the Nov. 4 primary election.
That also marked the last meeting at which the board faction backed by Jefferson Parish’s business community held a majority on the board. Delesdernier was a member of that group.
The other four members of that faction — Larry Dale, Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, Mark Jacobs and Pat Torvea — also voted in favor of reimbursing Delesdernier, as did then-board President Mark Morgan. Morgan was not part of the 2010 electoral wave that put those members on the board, but he often took their side in recent years.
Floyd and the other two board members sympathetic to the Jefferson teachers union — Ray St. Pierre and Etta Licciardi — voted against the measure.
Six votes were required to pass the motion, meaning it could not have succeeded without support from Delesdernier.
The only members of the former business-aligned faction remaining on the board are Denapolis-Bosarge and Dale, though Melinda Bourgeois joined them after the latest election. Morgan is still on the board, too.
Floyd and St. Pierre also are still on the School Board, and they have been joined by additional pro-union members Ricky Johnson, Melinda Doucet and Bonura.
The union had threatened to sue over any payment to Delesdernier, decrying that as an inappropriate use of public money. On Wednesday, a motion to prohibit any payments to Delesdernier was approved without dissent.
Some discussion did precede the vote, however. Bourgeois said she understood the decision the School Board was working toward, but that she worried about setting a precedent that members would be on their own legally in the event of an incident while on official business.
Doucet countered that anyone on the board hoping to have legitimate legal fees covered by the public should “be up front with the full amount.”
It was repeatedly said during the December meeting that Delesdernier’s fees were $8,000, and there was no effort by anyone to correct that.
Delesdernier obtained a restraining order against Floyd over the summer after he claimed Floyd attacked him during a contentious, closed-door board meeting involving the conversion of Woodmere Elementary into a charter school. A judge sided with Delesdernier in the fall and ruled that Floyd must stay at least 3 feet away from him.
Floyd — now the board’s president — has said he is considering an appeal of the ruling.
Meanwhile, St. Pierre said the version of events aired during a hearing before 24th Judicial District Court Nancy Miller did not jibe with what he witnessed.
UPDATE, 12:20 P.M., JAN. 19, 2015: Delesdernier returned The New Orleans Advocate’s phone call on Friday morning. In part, he said he never misrepresented the amount of his legal fees, and it was not his fault people were under the impression that they were lower. He said he only reported one figure to one person: Chief Financial Officer Robert Fulton. And it was the accurate one, Delesdernier said. Delesdernier also said Wednesday night’s vote was solely meant to politically embarrass him, for he had long ago returned the uncashed check.